My first video project was for an assignment in Latin class my Junior year of high school. It sparked an interest in me to visually express myself, which I carried over into my collegiate career. At the University of Tulsa, I founded a film club to bring together talented individuals from a variety of trained and non-trained backgrounds to write, direct, and act in student-led videos. Post college, I have continued producing shorts and documentaries, with several showing in the Saint Louis Filmmakers Showcase as well as the Saint Louis International Film Festival. In December of 2011, I decided to work intimately with the hip-hop music scene in Saint Louis to create music videos that would highlight each artist in ways that would challenge conventional thinking on what a hip-hop music video could and should be. I continue to collaborate with Saint Louis artists in the hip-hop scene to promote and show the creativity of the city, and my blog serves as a source of local hip-hop news for others to discover new music, new videos, and new perspectives.
Honing one's videography skills takes time; years of experience makes camera equipment seem second nature, a third hand. Shots come together naturally, and there is rarely an awkward pause or moment in determining what looks good and what doesn't. Ideas come before production, and they are the great equalizer. Before anything can be actually captured, something must be decided: what to shoot, the look and feel of the video, its purpose and point. Creating concepts for a video cannot really be taught. It is something that comes creatively from within an individual. There are ways to provoke creativity in visualizing a concept, but ultimately it's not a skill. Videos with great technique and production can have terrible plots -- the proof of this is at the box office every week. A meaningful or impactful idea supersedes the technical aspects of videography, and thus, it is the most important component of any video.
Hip-hop is a unique genre. Unlike other styles of music where there is a band or group of individuals creating music together, there are two, typically separate components that go into creating hip-hop music: a producer and a rapper. Rappers usually get all of the credit and the spotlight because it's their face and voice associated with the track. Producers are the people who sample different songs, create intricate drum loops, and add additional keys, horns, or guitars that comprise the musical element of a hip-hop track. They send these completed projects, or beats, out to a number of different rappers who listen and pick beats that fit their style or vision as an artist. Rarely do you see one producer for an entire album or one producer only working with one rapper. It's an interesting game and collaboration effort between multiple people that can result in some pretty cool music. This post is to highlight some of Saint Louis's best producers.
When it comes to executing the production of a music video, there are multiple phases that must be taken into consideration: pre-production, production, post-production. Though these phases seem obvious and simple, they all play a meaningful role in creating a successful video. Before even rolling with a camera on set, a video needs a concept. This must be thought out, examined, fought over, and eventually decided upon. Without a concept, there is no root to hold the images together. After a concept has been created, planning is another essential pre-production stage. Actors (if needed) must be determined, locations must be secured, dates must be set. Once all of this is in place, production can occur, which is usually the fun (or not so fun) part. The concept is made real and captured, leading to the final phase: post. This article will focus on the importance of video editing, and how editing a music video is just as important as the planning and recording.
Musical Masterminds Entertainment: a collection of young kids from Saint Louis with impressive musical talent, including but not limited to song writers, performers, producers, and lyricists. In recent years, and especially last year, this group has been making a lot of noise amongst hip-hop heads for their stylistically different approach in crafting music that is radically different than what you hear on the radio and what you would perceive as hip-hop. Mvstermind, the aptly named ringleader of this collective, is the nucleus, simultaneously serving as a rap artist and producer. Amir and Malcolm are the components of AtM (pronounced "AtM"), who bring a youthful perspective to their music as well as a team mentality. And last but not least, Ciej, a chill-spitting MC, and Lyrique, blessed with a velvet voice and smooth moves, round out the most active players of MME (Musical Masterminds Entertainment). Earlier this month, they co-headlined a concert at the demo (formerly the Fox Hole at the Atomic Cowboy), delivering a satisfying performance to loyal fans, and surprising a few new ears to boot.
Being a hip-hop artist in Saint Louis isn't something reserved only for men, as there are a number of strong female MCs that have produced major records with far-reaching success. The culture of the genre can be particularly demeaning towards women as it is particularly dominated by male rappers who constantly feel the need to prove themselves and prop up their ego to appeal to potential listeners. With that said, a female artist in hip-hop immediately faces obstacles to be taken seriously as the culture dictates that this profession is best left to the boys. Three local rappers provide contradictory evidence to that assertion and show that gender is meaningless when it comes to talent.
Tef Poe is the face of Saint Louis hip-hop. He recently wrapped up a stint on the BET Show 106th & Park, where he successfully defeated four opponents in a weekly freestyle competition. Last week he performed in front of a sold-out crowd at the Old Rock House and had one of his best performances to date, imbuing his relentless energy into the bodies of the audience who immediately connected to his music, whether or not they had previously heard it. A new project in the works, currently entitled Cheer for the Villain, is being exclusively produced by DJ Burn One, who is one of the biggest names in Southern hip-hop. To help promote his latest mixtape The Hero Killer, I recently wrapped up a 15-hour video shoot with Tef Poe over the weekend for his single "Rap F##ked Up".
Barely a few months into the new year, and Saint Louis hip-hop is alive and well with a number of new releases. From debut EPs to follow-up mixtapes, a broad range of new music has hit the scene since December 31st. Here are a few of my favorite tracks that I've compiled into a playlist for these cold, gloomy winter days. Put your headphones on, turn off the lights, and float into a "Haze" of original STL tracks.
Since December 2011, I have created seventeen music videos (to date) for hip-hop artists in the Saint Louis area. From newcomers to experienced rap game veterans, I've worked with a variety of individuals who are at different points in their careers, but all desire the same product: visuals for their music. Rappers exploit multiple avenues for marketing themselves and their craft to gain exposure, to build a fan base, and to make it big in the industry. By far the most popular marketing ploy is the music video, due to a number of recent technological advances within the last decade.
The night of the Grammys is when all artists in the industry stop what they're doing to see who takes home the top prizes for their respective genres. It's a needed pause meant to celebrate hard work and talent and to recognize those for their outstanding efforts from the past year. Some categories go relatively unnoticed because they aren't as popular as others. One of those categories is Gospel, which in recent years has been broadly redefined. Case in point is the latest winner for Best Gospel Album: Lecrae, who is a Christian-inspired hip-hop artist from Atlanta. His album Gravity won that Grammy, and it prominently features production from J.R., a Saint Louis native.
With 2012 in the rear view mirror, a year in review summary is typically appropriate. For Saint Louis rappers, 2012 represented many successes in several careers that are in varying states of experience. A new tandem released a stellar debut album with fresh production and a clear understanding of hip-hop. A Saint Louis heavyweight proved that sophomore slumps are a thing of the past with a huge hit sequel. The most innovative artist in the scene redefined the genre as a viable artform with his unique delivery. This post contains my favorite hip-hop mixtapes/albums from last year that were created by Saint Louis natives.